Usually (if you can call it “usually” – I’ve only written three articles) I write about video games. This time, I’m branching out and writing about old, out-of-business retail stores. It wasn’t long ago – 1997 will do it – when you could still choose a number of stores other than Wal-Mart for your everyday discount shopping. Nowadays, K-Mart seems to be slowly dying, so that leaves just Wal-Mart and Target, with a handful of much smaller regional chains. Here are a handful of other discount chains I remember.Bradlees
I don’t really remember shopping at Bradlees, mostly because my parents didn’t like it much. I only remember one location, which became a Borders – which later went out of business. I do remember the Bradlees ads though, with the Mrs. B jingle! I also remember Bradlees being in the news with their bankruptcy proceedings. It seemed like they made a bigger deal of that and held on a bit longer than most of the other discount chains, though it may just be my imagination.
Finally, a dollar store in my town apparently bought the old Bradlees carts at discount, because we use Bradlees carts when we go there. I always found it interesting that a physical piece of the old store remained like that, after it had been officially closed up. It was like a little everyday example of history.Laneco
For some reason, I have very fond memories of Laneco. Ours was an early supermarket-discount store hybrid, which seems surprising to me given that was almost 20 years ago. Before I was born my parents used to buy crab legs there. I can’t get over that.
It’s hard to describe why I liked Laneco so much, but it was one of those stores that was just fun to walk around. It was less impersonal and warehouse-like than Wal-Mart, but nicer than the average K-Mart. As with Ames below, the employees at Laneco were always very nice. There was a cute checkout girl there once and I struck up a conversation with her – at the old age of 6 or 7!
That’s another thing I remember from numerous chains back then – it was possible to find employees just walking around the store waiting to help you. Even discount retailing had customer service.
When our location closed up, they had a “fill the cart for $5” sale, though I didn’t get to go. In those days before people bought and sold on eBay, I wonder if it would have been possible to fill the cart with video games or electronics.Ames
Ames felt like K-Mart a little bit – slightly run-down, a little past its prime, but the employees were friendly and the prices were very good. There were several of these in my surrounding area, one of which stood vacant, with the sign still up, for more than 10 years. At one Ames, my dad bought an M-rated video game (Nintendo 64), and the lady asked him for ID to make sure he was over 18!
The thing I recall about Caldor is being very surprised that there was yet another discount chain out there. I’m sure I was in one at some point, but I don’t remember it. What I do remember is seeing a Caldor sticker on something or other in our house and asking my dad what store that was.
I don’t think there was anything really special about Caldor, but I read once that in the early ’90s Caldor had the fourth largest revenue among retail chains in the whole country, after Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart. They also once altered the New York Times bestsellers list to remove a book by Howard Stern.Woolworth
To be honest, I never set foot in a Woolworth’s. Of course, I’d heard of them even when I was little, but here’s the funny thing. I thought it was a very old store, as in, it had not existed for a long time. I was quite surprised to learn that it had still been a major chain while I was alive! Jamesway
Jamesway was a pretty large store for its time. Our location was an anchor store for a small one-story indoor mall from the '70s, and that too was replaced with a strip mall. Jamesway excelled particularly in the toy department, and I remember some of my coolest childhood toys were from this store. If I recall, we also bought a 19 inch television there. While a Wal-Mart Supercenter probably dwarfs Jamesway nowadays, our store at least was huge, with a very high ceiling which made it feel even bigger.Conclusion
I know there are even more chains than these that are gone, and a few smaller chains that still survive. There were, in fact, a huge number of discount retail stores in the past. It doesn’t really make that much of a difference – after all, most of what they sold was national brands and therefore available elsewhere. Still, it was nice to see a different store every time you passed a large mall or shopping center. Now, there are some places where it’s a Wal-Mart every 15 minutes.
What stores do you remember? Was there any special merchandise that the big chains now don’t carry? Leave it in the comments!
Addison Del Mastro
Video gamer since the '90s and starting as a video game writer. I'm interested in the history, technology, and culture of retrogaming, both now and in the original "retro" era.